ZTT / Warner Brothers Records, 1991
REVIEW BY: Alicia St. Rose
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/09/2000
I've often likened Seal to Peter Gabriel. The similarities are there: they are both British, they both have more than one eponymously titled album and more importantly, they both possess a soulfully sophisticated vocal delivery which they use to great affect amidst their coolly textured compositions.
No place is this more evident than in Seal's 1994 album, Seal. In the song "Don't Cry" I was startled by the similarity between Seal's voice and that of Gabriel. But, by no means am about to review this album as a Peter Gabriel rip off. No, the similarities are there, but there is so much more to Seal that the parallels are merely anchors tying him to same sophisticated musical tradition. Seal is an extraordinary musician in his own right.
Seal is an album of eloquent, mesmerizing tunes. In the liner notes, Seal reveals that he nearly hired a new producer for a "new" sound, but the rapport between his debut album producer, Trevor Horn (The Buggles, ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Tina Turner, Yes), was too strong to ignore. It's a boon for our ears that he chose to follow his instincts. Horn's crisp and unadorned production create a coolness and freshness like a breeze breaking through a hot summer night. He was justly awarded a Grammy for his efforts.
Seal also borrows the former Prince -- we can call him that now -- Revolutionaries, Wendy and Lisa, as principal musicians, and the likes of Jeff Beck, Joni Mitchell and William Orbit are sprinkled throughout the album.
This time around you won't get the hard hitting punch as in "Killer" from his debut album. No, the songs on Seal work like a cerebral massage. They are smooth flowing, rhythmic masterpieces with Seal's voice -- the aural equivalent to velvet.
The album highlight is the divine and otherworldly "Kiss From A Rose," arguably one of the most beautiful songs to grace mainstream radio. A mélange of soul and baroque gives the song a mystical quality that defies categorization. "If I Could" penetrates your senses like the tendrils of a slow moving fog. The pairing of Joni Mitchell's vocals with Seal's in the second half of the song is heavenly. There's one song, "New Born Friend" which ups the tempo a bit. It's a joyous tune with Eastern philosophical leanings.
Horn's production is impeccably neat and understated. In "Fast Changes", the song opens with a whimsical flute passage giving way to a single acoustic guitar rhythm that interplays with Seal's remarkable voice up through the first verse. Other instruments are almost surreptitiously added to the mix.
Seal is a fantastic album with a timeless quality, and the ability to stand decades of musical change and still sound fresh. (His first album has also aged quite well.) It is a showcase for Horn as a highly talented producer, and for Seal as an artist who transcends categorization and imbues his music with a palpable individuality and intimacy. This album should be in your collection.